Niner Faithful are chomping at the bit to see the 2018 rookies in action, but how did San Francisco do with its 2017 draft picks? A year later, Locked on 49ers takes a look back at the Class of 2017.
It’s easy to get excited about Mike McGlinchey, Dante Pettis, Fred Warner and the rest of the shiny new toys following what seems to be a successful 2018 draft for the 49ers, but what about the 10 men who were in this position just 365 short days ago, many of whom made invaluable contributions to the red-and-gold as rookies?
Here, we provide a retrospective look at San Francisco’s Class of 2017 and grade each selection. Grades are awarded based on the impact they made as a rookie, their overall importance to the 49ers and long-term upside versus when they were selected.
1. DE Solomon Thomas (First round, No. 3 pick)
Fans have certain expectations of what they want out of a defensive player when he’s taken in the first five picks of the draft: An unstoppable force who is all over the field, delivering punishing hits, batting passes to the ground and serving as a non-stop migraine to the opposing players and coaches alike. Thomas, who produced just three sacks while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 92 edge defender out of 106 qualifiers, did none of those things in 2017.
While he didn’t cause the kind of mayhem the 49ers likely desired when they made him the third player off the board, Thomas turned in an adequate rookie campaign, ranking as the No. 45 edge defender against the run and gradually improving across the board as the season progressed. By most accounts, Thomas is more comfortable, more vocal and primed for a breakout heading into hits sophomore season.
San Francisco plans to play Thomas at “LEO” in its base defense this season and shift him inside to the rush the quarterback on obvious passing downs, and doing so should free up the 256-pounder to generate far more pressure than he produced as a rookie. According to PFF, Thomas pressured the quarterback on 21 percent of his inside pass-rushing snaps compared to only 16 percent when rushing from the edge.
Thomas, who missed OTAs while still attending college a year ago and admitted that the mental side of the NFL represented his biggest adjustment, will also be the beneficiary of a full offseason with the red and gold.
In an absolute worst-case scenario, Thomas should remain a quality run-stopper for the 49ers, but it’s not unfair for coaches and fans to be looking for a big jump from the Stanford powerhouse in year two. Playing next to DeForest Buckner, who led the NFL with 19 quarterback hits a season ago, will only help his cause.
2. LB Reuben Foster (First round, No. 31 pick)
Save for a pair of injuries that cost him six games, Foster’s rookie season couldn’t have gone much better. From the first time he stepped onto an NFL gridiron, the first-year linebacker was an absolute juggernaut, doling out punishing tackles, clearly making those around him better, using his instincts to make lightning-quick reads and reactions, and taking to professional football like a duck to water.
Given Foster’s tendency to fearlessly launch himself at the point of attack, there will be questions about his ability to stay on the field, especially after he suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 last season before sustaining a rib injury in Week 7 (the former cost him the next five games, and the latter cost him one), but Niner Nation should be salivating at the idea of witnessing Foster hunt ball-carriers like he was shot out of a cannon for years to come.
After posting 72 tackles in 10 games last season and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 4 linebacker with a score of 90.7, what can Foster do as an encore? He has unlimited upside that he could well fulfill, assuming he can avoid injuries and stay out of trouble away from the gridiron.
In a post-draft interview last year, John Lynch revealed that he would have drafted Foster with the third overall pick had Thomas been taken with one of the first two selections, and Foster proved that it wasn’t just “front-office talk” from the San Francisco GM with an eye-popping rookie campaign. If all goes as planned, Foster will be the take-no-prisoners centerpiece of this quickly improving defense for many years.
Even as a first-rounder, Foster has the upside to be the steal of the 2017 draft after going No. 31 overall, and off-field concerns are the only reason he doesn’t get an A+.
3. CB Ahkello Witherspoon (Third round, No. 66 pick)
Another defender with enticing upside, Witherspoon experienced a shaky training camp and was inactive for the first four games last season, but he bounced back by concluding the campaign as the team’s best cornerback.
San Francisco covets a defense built around length and athleticism, and the second-year corner has a surplus of both qualities. Witherspoon flashed strong ball skills and impressive speed as a rookie, allowing him to quickly close on the receiver even after he’d been beat.
As Pro Football Focus’ No. 42 cornerback out of 121 qualifiers, Witherspoon will anchor San Francisco’s up-and-coming secondary, he could have the brightest future out of anyone in the talented unit, and he seems like a near lock to at least play up to his third-round pick status (if not greatly eclipse it).
4. QB C.J. Beathard (Third round, No. 104 pick)
One of the only swings and misses of the Lynch-Shanahan era thus far, Beathard struggled to deliver when thrust into action in Week 6 last season.
Beathard threw four touchdowns against six interceptions while completing a measly 54.9 percent of his passes, and while it was a somewhat limited sample size, the Iowa product did little to inspire anyone that he could be the quarterback of the future.
While the struggles were aplenty, the undersized signal-caller showed a willingness to stand in the pocket and take some vicious hits as a rookie, and his perseverance paid off when he turned in an excellent Week 10 performance against the Giants to give the 0-9 Niners their first win of the season.
This seemingly mega-reach of a selection is semi-forgivable because there was no way to know San Francisco would complete an in-season trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, who would knock it out of the ballpark by winning all five of his starts to earn a massive extension. If nothing else, perhaps Beathard can develop into a serviceable backup to the $137.5-million man.
5. RB Joe Williams (Fourth Round, No. 121 pick)
Before an ankle injury cost him his rookie season, Williams seemed ticketed for the role that UDFA Matt Breida eventually claimed as his own: A change-of-pace speedster who would spell Carlos Hyde. Now, he may be fighting for his roster spot in 2018.
Since he was inactive all last season, he’s one of San Francisco’s most difficult players to grade. Williams was an absolute beast for Utah in his senior season, taking the rock 210 times for 1,407 yards and 10 touchdowns, so the talent is there, but questions about his passion for and commitment to football have lingered.
With a crowded backfield that already includes established ball-carriers (Jerick McKinnon and Breida) along with a plethora of running backs battling for a roster spot (Jeremy McNichols, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson), Williams needs a big summer and an even better preseason to claim his place on the 53. If he delivers, he’ll be in the mix for touches when the regular season starts and could even push Breida for the change-of-pace role.
Perhaps there isn’t a single player on San Francisco’s roster with a greater discrepancy between their ceiling and their floor, and while it may not be fair to a second-year player, this may truly be a make-or-break campaign for Williams.
6. TE George Kittle (Fifth round, No. 146 overall pick)
Get excited, people. If you want a skill position player with tantalizing upside who looks like a slam-dunk to outperform his draft status, Kittle is your guy.
Kittle played his college ball at Iowa, a noted pound-the-rock program, making it easy for pro teams to sleep on the Hawkeye tight end, and the Niners waited until the fifth round before finally pouncing on their diamond in the rough.
Even with subpar quarterback play in last season’s early goings, Kittle was a model of consistency, posting adequate (if unspectacular) numbers and notching at least one reception in all 16 games, despite drawing just seven starts.
While his receiving line (43-515-2) from last season doesn’t jump off the page, he finished second to Evan Engram in receptions by a rookie tight end, and Kittle is one of only four rookie tight ends to rack up 515-plus receiving yards and two or more scores since 2011.
As was seemingly the case with every player who donned the red and gold a year ago, Kittle finished the season strong, nabbing 11 receptions for 194 yards and a score over his last three games, and if he gets anywhere near that level of production in his second season, Kittle has a chance to be quite the late-round steal.
7. WR Trent Taylor (Fifth Round, No. 177 pick)
Taylor might be a bit undersized for an NFL receiver, and Niner fans may spend years holding their breath as he zips over the middle of the field to haul in a tough reception while trying to avoid a bone-jarring hit, but he gives San Francisco a viable long-term solution at slot receiver, a position which has been something of a blackhole for the team for far too long.
Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin are likely entrenched as the starters, and with San Francisco trading up to nab Dante Pettis in the second round of last year’s draft, not to mention the presence of veteran Aldrick Robinson and second-year man Kendrick Bourne, who has had a strong minicamp, it’s safe to say that Taylor will once again be battling for snaps this season. But after Taylor notched 43 receptions for 430 yards and two scores as a rookie while showing an impressive report with Jimmy G, slot receiver should be his position to lose.
8. DT D.J. Jones (Sixth Round, No. 198 pick)
Something of a dart throw by San Francisco (that’s how most selections in sixth and seventh round can be described), Jones played sparingly in his rookie campaign, notching 10 tackles in nine games.
Jones wasn’t on the field much at Ole Miss, seeing the field for fewer than half of the squad’s defensive snaps in his final season, but his 321-pound frame and high motor likely intrigued San Francisco’s decision-makers.
Jones had a fairly nondescript rookie campaign, so it’s hard to know exactly what the 49ers have, but he should be back in the mix on San Francisco’s interior defensive line, likely as a rotational backup who could see the gridiron whenever someone needs a breather. He won’t be the draft pick that makes or breaks the 2018 draft, but he was an acceptable flyer for Lynch and company.
9. DE Pita Taumoepenu (Sixth Round, No. 202 pick)
A lot of what was said about Jones also applies to Taumoepenu, though standing at just 245 pounds, the All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention is an undersized edge-rusher for the NFL.
He was active in just two games last season, didn’t crack the stat sheet, played only on special teams and will likely be competing for a roster spot in 2018.
Like Jones, he’s not going to make or break San Francisco.
10. FS Adrian Colbert (Seventh round, No. 229 pick)
Had Colbert not missiled into the frame from his safety position and forced a fumble with a picture-perfect tackle during San Francisco’s preseason finale last season, it’s entirely possible that he wouldn’t have even made the team. Now that he has, he’s here to stay.
Colbert enters the new campaign as the squad’s unquestioned starting free safety, having put enough good football on tape a year ago to entrench himself in the starting lineup.
Colbert provides a little bit of everything: Big hits, solid ball skills, better-than-expected wrap tackling and impressive speed, and he used those tools to improve throughout his rookie season while steadying San Francisco’s once-leaky pass defense. He’s also capable of playing cornerback in a pinch, as he did during his senior season at Miami. He took it very personally after going No. 229 overall – something he made crystal clear on Twitter – and he’s played with a massive chip on his shoulder ever since.
It’s almost impossible to do much better with your seventh-round pick.
49ers: Assessing San Francisco’s free agent losses in 2018
Inevitably, NFL squads and their fans are bound to suffer some gut-punches in the form of productive (and sometimes beloved) players departing via free agency. The San Francisco 49ers, however, seem to have enjoyed a mostly painless free agency period, and we’re taking a look at the newly ex-Niners and assessing what their departure means to the organization and their former teammates.
Seasons with San Francisco: 4
New team: Browns
New contract: Three years, $15.25 million ($8 million guaranteed)
The skinny: By far the most prominent player that departed this season, Hyde was a steady contributor for four seasons with San Francisco. Beginning as Frank Gore’s understudy in 2014, the former Ohio State standout produced 333 yards and four scores on 83 carries while occasionally spelling Gore before becoming the starter the following season.
That’s the role he enjoyed ever since, and while Hyde occasionally flashed potential to join the top tier of NFL running backs, maintaining that level of play proved quite challenging and staying on the field was never a sure thing, as he suited up 50 out of 64 possible games.
Hyde definitely had his moments, but it’s fair to say San Francisco was expecting more from a second-round draft pick, and Pro Football Focus wasn’t kind to him this past season. The four-year vet earned an overall mark of 51.9, putting him as the No. 50 of 58 qualified backs and dead last as both a receiver and pass blocker.
The 235-pounder lacks elite quickness, struggles in all facets of the passing game and is hardly the ideal running back in a Kyle Shanahan system, which requires speed and versatility. Hyde’s fate was likely sealed as soon as Shanahan was hired, as the Niners were never going commit to him the way the Browns did since he simply didn’t fit the scheme.
Despite having very little competition for carries over the past three seasons, Hyde never reached the 1,000-yard plateau and has hit the century mark just four times in his career.
Solid running back, but not the kind of free agent you break the bank for.
Who benefits the most: RB Jerick McKinnon – Hyde’s departure left a massive void in the backfield. While Matt Breida impressed last season in his change-of-pace role, the Niners weren’t realistically going to go all-in on a second-year undrafted running back. Instead, San Francisco forked over a four-year, $30 million contract to McKinnon, who is clearly the biggest beneficiary of Hyde’s exit now that he finally can be a feature bank (not to mention his vastly increased bank account). Despite never rushing for more than 570 yards in a season while playing a change-of-pace role in Minnesota, McKinnon became the league’s fourth-highest paid running back when he put the pen to the paper, and his signing was set in motion the moment the Niners decided to move on from Hyde.
G Brandon Fusco
Seasons with San Francisco: 1
New team: Falcons
New contract: Three years, $12.75 million ($5.5 million guaranteed)
The skinny: After spending six seasons in Minnesota, Brandon Fusco made a rather short stay in San Francisco and turned in a solid season, earning a 76.7 grade from PFF, good for a three-way tie as the league’s No. 18 qualified guard out of 79.
While Fusco represents one of the Niners’ biggest free agent losses, San Francisco’s brass likely believed there were more pressing needs during free agency and simply weren’t willing to match Atlanta’s offer, especially since the team still has three former first-round guards under contract.
Who benefits the most: G Josh Garnett – It isn’t too often a first-round pick is in danger of being cut after just two seasons in the league, but it’s become a very real possibility with Garnett, a Chip Kelly-Trent Baalke holdover. On the flip side, Garnett has a chance to open the season as a starter, and Fusco’s departure means the guard position is slightly less crowded, improving Garnett’s chances of cracking the 53.
CB Dontae Johnson
Seasons with San Francisco: 4
New team: Seahawks
New contract: One year, $1.3 million
The skinny: As a fourth-round draft pick in 2014, Johnson flashed just a bit of promise as someone who may provide a nice return. Certainly, he never looked like a superstar in the making, but competent cornerback play was a distinct possibility.
Instead, he quickly hit his (limited) ceiling and saw his play fall of a cliff as the years went by. Last season, Johnson received a 36.9 mark from Pro Football Focus, making him No. 118 cornerback out of 121 qualifiers after he graded out poorly across the board.
Johnson’s excavation from this unit is just one of several ousters orchestrated by San Francisco’s brass, as they’ve completely overhauled the secondary, which now has more potential than any Niner squad in recent seasons.
Who benefits the most: DB Jimmie Ward – While he’s had some underperformance issues himself since going in the first round (No. 30 overall) of the 2014 draft, Ward’s path to playing time gets a bit easier with Johnson out of the picture. Coach Kyle Shanahan talked up Ward’s versatility this offseason and noted that he’ll probably be the top backup at every position in the secondary. For a more detailed look at San Francisco’s controversial decision to retain Jimmie Ward via the fifth-year option from Locked On 49ers, click here.
LB/DE Tank Carradine
Seasons with San Francisco: 5
New team: Raiders
New contract: One year, $1.25 million
The skinny: Carradine amassed only 5.5 sacks in four seasons (44 games) with the red and gold and never became anything close to the disruptive force the Niners thought they were getting when they selected him in the second round (No. 40 overall) in 2013, though he did earn a 78.1 mark from PFF last season. While he didn’t see enough snaps to qualify for the edge defender rankings, that grade would have placed him at No. 47 out of 106 qualifiers.
Carradine at least provided some decent run defense with a mark of 82.6, though his 71.8 pass rush grade left much to be desired. Seeing as how Carradine is now 28 years old, it’s very unlikely San Francisco will experience significant regrets about letting the fringe starter walk in free agency, as he’s now slated for a rotational role with the Raiders.
Who benefits the most: DE Arik Armstead – Armstead, the No. 17 overall pick in 2015 who recently had his fifth-year option picked up by San Francisco, has yet to develop into a monstrous pass-rusher, but more snaps should be heading his way with Carradine out of town. Given that Armstead has only six sacks in three seasons, a new career-high is quite possible for 2018.
DE Aaron Lynch
Seasons with San Francisco: 4
New team: Bears
New contract: One year, $4 million ($1.25 million guaranteed)
The skinny: It’s been a tale of two careers for Lynch: The South Florida product flashed major potential with 12.5 sacks in 30 games in his first two seasons, then followed up with just 2.5 sacks in 14 games over the last two.
He’s not without upside, as PFF gave him a 78.7 mark last season, but the Niners weren’t going to bank on a breakout from the soon-to-be fifth-year player.
Factor in the former fifth-rounder’s conditioning issues and a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and there was virtually no chance he’d be brought back to San Francisco.
Who benefits the most: DE Jerry Attaochu – Attaochu, who came over as a free agent from San Diego this offseason, isn’t so different from Lynch. Both are entering their fifth season, each has flashed semi-enticing pass-rush skills, both have posted six-plus sacks in at least one campaign and been hampered by injuries. Perhaps Attaochu can do what Lynch has been unable to over the past two years and buoy the Niners’ pass rush.
TE Logan Paulsen
Seasons with San Francisco: 1
New team: Falcons
New contract: One year, $1.005 million
Paulsen only saw 144 snaps last season, so his 50.3 PFF grade can be taken with a grain of salt, but it didn’t make sense for the Niners to retain the well-traveled veteran when they’ve got three younger in-house candidates with more upside.
Who benefits the most: TE Cole Hikutini/TE Ross Dwelley/TE Cole Wick: Locked On 49ers’ Chris Wilson recently broke down San Francisco’s tight ends, and while Kittle and Celek are near locks to crack the 53, Hikutini, Dwelley and Wick all have a better chance of snagging the No. 3 tight end role now that Paulsen has departed.
CB Leon Hall
Seasons with San Francisco: 1
New team: Raiders
New contract: One year, $915k
The skinny: Hall spent one season in red and gold and now moves on to his fourth team in as many seasons. The 33-year-old didn’t fare well in a part-time role last year, and he became expendable after several young defensive backs performed admirably last season.
It only made sense that the Niners would let him walk and continue his journeyman career elsewhere.
Who benefits the most: CB Tarvarius Moore — With San Francisco boasting a young and improving secondary, Hall wouldn’t have been assured a roster spot even if he’d stuck around, but now that he’s gone, San Francisco’s intriguing third-round draft pick could be ticketed for a more prominent role, even if he’ll perhaps start the season behind Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams and Jimmie Ward.
*Note: San Francisco’s free agents that have not signed elsewhere are not included in this article.
Don’t miss Locked On 49ers’ article on San Francisco’s incoming free agents.
Training Camp Preview: Offensive Line
Podcast for Thursday, July 19
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49ers: Assessing San Francisco’s free agent additions for 2018
Whether bringing in a blockbuster signing or an under-the-radar pickup, the San Francisco 49ers were busy during free agency season and courted players of all shapes and sizes to bolster the red and gold in 2018.
We’re taking a look at everyone who put the pen to the paper during free agency to join the Niners’ family.
CB Richard Sherman
Former team: Seahawks
Experience: 8th season
Contract signed with 49ers: Three years, $39 million ($3 million guaranteed)
The skinny: How could we start anywhere else? Niner Faithful’s former public enemy No. 1 turned prized free agent pickup didn’t even need to start practicing to make an impact, as multiple reports from red-and-gold camp indicated that the veteran cornerback was all over the gridiron coaching up San Francisco’s young defensive backs.
What to expect: With Sherman now 30 years old and coming off an Achilles injury that ended his season during Week 10 last year, there are bound to be some question marks regarding Sherman’s ability to remain one of the NFL’s elite corners.
Still, Sherman was at the top of his game when he was healthy in 2017, earning praise from Pro Football Focus, which gushed over San Francisco’s signing of the outspoken antagonist. If there’s been any regression whatsoever, it’s barely noticeable, and a reinvigorated and healthy Sherman is just the man to anchor San Francisco’s fast-rising secondary and provide the defense with some swag.
Who benefits the most: CB Ahkello Witherspoon – After he was relegated to a healthy scratch for the first four games of last season due to a poor training camp, Witherspoon bounced back in a major way and quickly established himself as the 49ers’ unquestioned top cornerback down the stretch, but asking the Colorado product to produce like an All-Pro and become a fiery leader in just his second season may have been a tall order. Sherman’s got that covered for days, and Witherspoon can continue to learn from the best.
RB Jerick McKinnon
Former team: Vikings
Experience: 5th season
Contract signed with 49ers: Four years, $30 million ($12 million guaranteed)
The skinny: Simply put, Jerick McKinnon is a Kyle Shanahan guy. And it’s easy to see why: The Georgia Southern product is dangerous in space, has blinding speed, can bounce runs to the outside, possesses excellent receiving skills and can stand up to hard-charging linebackers in pass protection.
Comparisons to Devonta Freeman, whom Shanahan spent time with in Atlanta when the Falcons went to the Super Bowl, were running wild even before the ink dried on McKinnon’s new contract.
What to expect: Though some questioned the Niners when they made the relatively unproven McKinnon the fourth-highest paid running back in the NFL, it will be money well spent if he gets anywhere near Freeman’s level of production, and even while splitting time in Minnesota’s committee last season, Jet was Pro Football Focus’ eighth-ranked running back with a mark of 84.5.
The man he replaces, Carlos Hyde, came in at No. 50 out of 58 qualified backs with a 51.9 grade.
If they weren’t keen on making McKinnon a featured part of the offense and weren’t completely sold on his ability to rapidly ascend to a dangerous top-tier player, the Niners wouldn’t have broken the bank for Jet the way they did. Twenty-five-plus touches per game is a distinct possibility.
Who benefits the most: QB Jimmy Garoppolo – When Jimmy G led San Francisco to five victories in his only five starts of the season, he did so while standing next to Carlos Hyde, who graded out as the worst pass-blocking running back in the NFL out of 46 qualifiers (McKinnon ranked 11th).
While McKinnon can hold his own against hard-charging defenders in pass protection, he’s even more equipped to haul in receptions, and the elusive speedster will be a serious threat to do damage every time he hauls in a pass from the new franchise quarterback.
C Weston Richburg
Former team: Giants
Experience: 5th season
Contract signed with 49ers: Five years, $47.5 million ($16.5 million guaranteed)
The skinny: With four new starters across five positions on the offensive line since the start of last season, the 49ers have completely overhauled the unit, and Weston Richburg is your literal and figurative centerpiece. The 6’4”, 300-pound Colorado product played his first four seasons with the Giants after going in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2014 draft and graded out as Pro Football Focus No. 2 center with a phenomenal season in 2015.
What to expect: Over four years in the league, Richburg has established himself as one of the top young interior linemen in pro football. Richburg never quite replicated his outstanding sophomore season, but he’s arguably the standard-bearer for centers when it comes to pass-blocking, which is even more important when you’ve got a relatively inexperienced quarterback signed to a $137.5 million contract.
There is some injury concern, as he missed the final 12 games of last season with a concussion, though Richburg himself disagreed with the decision and had appeared in 47 of a possible 48 games the previous three seasons combined.
Richburg will be counted on to keep Jimmy G upright, and that shouldn’t be a problem for PFF’s No. 14-ranked free agent of 2018, as he’s permitted just four sacks on 2,112 pass-blocking snaps, a truly mind-blowing stat.
Though Richburg only played four games last season, he earned a 71.3 mark from Pro Football Focus, which would have been good enough to rank him as the league’s No. 13 center if he’d suited up enough times to qualify. Daniel Kilgore, the man he’s replacing, was No. 23 with a grade of 51.6.
Who benefits the most: The correct answer is “everyone,” but if we must narrow it down to one player, we’ll again go with Jimmy Garoppolo – Having the chance to step into your throws and drive the ball downfield is imperative in today’s NFL, and with Richburg acting as a brick wall in front of him, Garoppolo will get the chance to do exactly that on nearly every pass he throws this season.
G Jonathan Cooper
Former team: Cowboys
Experience: 6th season
Contract signed with 49ers: One year, $4.5 million ($4 million guaranteed)
The skinny: We’ve already provided a comprehensive breakdown on the curious case of Cooper and his fellow first-round offensive guard teammates in San Francisco, Laken Tomlinson and Josh Garnett. Now for the quick version.
To be blunt, Cooper is a career underachiever since being drafted No. 7 overall by the Cardinals in 2013, though it’s not all his fault. Much of Cooper’s ineffectiveness can be chalked up to a plethora of injuries.
What to expect: On the bright side, Cooper appeared in a career-high 13 games with the Cowboys last season and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 35 guard out of 79 qualifiers with a mark of 67.0 (he was also No. 29 in run blocking).
Cooper has come to the right place, as he’ll have every chance to earn a starting gig a right guard, an opportunity that he may not have been afforded on some other teams.
He’ll face competition from the aforementioned Garnett (San Francisco’s first-round selection in 2016 who has similarly battled injuries and ineffectiveness) and veteran journeyman and free agent pickup Mike Person (more on him in a moment). Early indications suggest Cooper may have the edge on both.
Who benefits the most: OG Josh Garnett – If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: Competition makes everyone better. With a strong training camp and preseason, either Cooper or 24-year-old Garnett could earn the right to line up between Weston Richburg and Mike McGlinchey at right guard for the first snap of the 2018 campaign, but both also face the very real possibility of being cut before we even get there, especially if the injury bug bites once again.
DE/LB Jeremiah Attaochu
Former team: Chargers
Experience: 5th season
Contract signed with 49ers: One year, $3 million
The skinny: One of San Francisco’s chief concerns heading into the offseason was finding someone via the draft or free agency that could consistently put some heat on the quarterback. Unfortunately for the red and gold, the lack of a bona fide speed rusher is still something of an issue heading into the upcoming season, but perhaps Attaochu has a chance to cure what ails the defense.
What to expect: Playing time was sparse for the Georgia Tech product in San Diego, though he showed encouraging signs as a situational pass-rusher in 2015 when he produced a career-high six sacks in 15 games.
Sadly, ankle, foot and hamstring injuries derailed his momentum, as he appeared in just eight games in 2016 and only four last year, so Niner fans will have to keep their fingers crossed that he can remain on the field before wishing for highly productive play.
Signed only for only one season at such a low cost, he’s a fine flier for John Lynch and company.
Who benefits the most: DT DeForest Buckner – Arguably San Francisco’s best defensive player, DeFo notched three sacks last season while racking up a league-leading 19 quarterback hits. If Attaochu can generate even a moderate amount of pressure and attract just a bit of attention from opposing offensive lines, it could be enough for Buckner to turn even more of those quarterback hits into sacks.
G/C Mike Person
Former team: Colts
Experience: 8th season
Contract with 49ers: One year, $915k
The skinny: The former seventh-round draft pick of the 49ers makes his way back to the bay after stops in Indianapolis, Seattle, St. Louis, Atlanta, Kansas City and a second stint with the Colts. He’s also been released/waived six times, but he’s worked hard to stay in the league as a versatile backup that can play all three positions on the interior line.
What to expect: Since he only started four games last season and only took the field for 317 snaps, Person didn’t qualify for PFF’s center rankings, but he still received a decent 70.5 mark and proved rock-solid in pass protection with a grade of 77.2.
Like Josh Garnett and Jonathan Cooper, Person will be gunning for the starting job at right guard, and this may be the best chance the well-traveled Person has ever had to crack the starting lineup and stick there.
Who benefits the most: G Josh Garnett and G Jonathan Cooper – Every training camp session and preseason snap counts, as all three guards duke it out for the right to line up between Weston Richburg and Mike McGlinchey for Week 1.
LB Korey Toomer
Former team: Chargers
Experience: 5th season
Contract with 49ers: One year, $880k
The skinny: Something of an under-the-radar signing by San Francisco, Toomer has a few factors working in his favor: Familiarity with Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme after playing in a similar system last year in San Diego, a nose for the football (he’s forced five fumbles and broken up five passes in the last two seasons combined in limited snaps), and he’s coming off a strong season that saw him earn an 80.3 grade from PFF.
What to expect: While Toomer’s 257 defensive snaps weren’t enough to qualify him to be officially ranked, the Idaho product showed well when he was on the gridiron, as his grade would have placed him as the No. 23 linebacker in the NFL.
There could be some sneaky untapped potential waiting to be unlocked if Toomer can earn playing time with a strong training camp and preseason, and he’ll likely get his shot in the campaign’s first two games while Reuben Foster is suspended. Once again, it’s a savvy low-risk, high-reward signing.
Who benefits the most: LB Reuben Foster – Toomer is likely to see a surplus of snaps during Foster’s suspension. While he poses no threat to Foster’s job security, the veteran could play a critical mentor role for San Francisco’s maligned second-year playmaker, both on and off the field.
P Jeff Locke
Former team: Lions
Experience: 5th season
Contract with 49ers: One year, $790k
The skinny: Jeff Locke spent his first four seasons in Minnesota before failing to make the Colts last season and eventually latching on with the Lions for five games prior to being cut when the team’s starting punter returned from injury. Locke, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Vikings in 2013, has averaged 43.4 yards per punt since entering the league and has put 112 of his punts inside the 20 in five seasons.
What to expect: Teams only carry one punter, and Locke will have to dramatically outperform incumbent Bradley Pinion, who has averaged 43.7 yards per punt and has pinned the opposition inside the 20 on 90 occasions in three seasons with San Francisco since being selected in 2015 as a fifth-rounder just like Locke.
Who will benefit the most: P Bradley Pinion – A good old-fashioned training camp battle never hurt anybody (not even punters), and San Francisco’s fourth-year man will have to continue to perform to hold off the newcomer.
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